The City Without Light


Two weeks ago, as Hong Kong was swept under the tide of bacchanalia known as Art Week — basically a non-stop stream of parties and other well-lubricated events revolving around Art Basel Hong Kong — something remarkable happened to the city’s tallest building. Normally, the 484-metre-tall International Commerce Centre is illuminated by an unceasingly kitschy programme of LED animations, including (I kid you not) a cloud shaped like a teddy bear. But on a hot and very humid Thursday evening, the LED display suddenly began pulsating, as if representing the rhythm of the city’s heartbeat.

It was actually the work of Carsten Nicolai, a German artist commissioned by Art Basel to transform the ICC into what must have been the world’s largest piece of art. Standing on the roof of Central Ferry Pier 4, surrounded by three-metre-high LED panels and replicas of the King of Kowloon’s graffiti, Nicolai created a remarkable, hypnotic show of light and sound called α (alpha) pulse. The effect was enhanced by a mobile phone app that synced up with the tower’s pulse, turning an ordinary handheld device into a cryptic beacon. It was an interesting way of translating the enormity of the ICC into something more approachable. “Artwork should have a human scale,” Nicolai said the next day, in a conversation with German curator Nicholaus Hirsch. “It should not be too monumental.”

Nicolai’s starting point for α (alpha) pulse was the relationship between light, sound and the human experience of the city. “Our body is defined by a pulse,” he said, and this is literally affected by sound and light: “These three elements can synchronize. Our body is always adjusting to the environment.”

It raises interesting questions about how we experience the city, which is of course filled with a cacophony of sound and light, most of it incidental and unplanned. Nicolai reflected on this with an anecdote about a trip to Tokyo right after the Tohoku earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster, which resulted in emergency power-saving measures in the capital. “I was walking through Shibuya and the city looked completely different,” he said. “I’ve never seen Shibuya so dark. And then I realized that architecture today is defined by light sources that are not primarily installed by the architects. They have an immense influence on how you experience the city.A classical city like Florence was defined by its architects, but if you go to a modern city you experience it in a very different way.”


Shibuya, March 2011 – lights off

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Monday May 26 2014at 06:05 am , filed under Architecture, Art and Design, Asia Pacific, Public Space, Society and Culture, Video and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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